Saudi Arabia’s health ministry announced this week that it has detected a surge in cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), after medical facilities confirmed six new cases of the disease within a 24 hour time frame.
Reuters reports that the announcement of the six new cases this Wednesday increases the total of cases in Saudi Arabia this month to 32, a significant spike since it was believed to have come under control earlier in the year. Most of the cases appear to be surfacing in the capital, Riyadh, and in Taif, a city to the west of the nation near Mecca.
While this current outbreak has yet to reach the levels of previous outbreaks in recent years, Saudi Arabian officials expressed concern that it may rapidly grow if the rate of transmission accelerates. “MERS-CoV remains a significant health threat in Saudi Arabia,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement this week, noting that it appears that contact with camels has triggered the increase in cases in Taif. “The situation in Taif is still under investigation and we expect to see more cases in the coming days and weeks,” Anees Sindi, deputy commander of the health ministry’s command and control centre, told the Agence France-Presse.
While Reuters notes that officials blamed health worker protocol for some of the distribution of the disease, they nonetheless released public health warnings on how to avoid contracting and spreading the disease, including “coughing etiquette” and choosing “to avoid contact with camels and refrain from consuming raw camel milk or undercooked camel meat.”
The MERS outbreak appeared to have reached a peak in April, when Saudi Arabian officials announced over 80 people had died as a result of contracting the virus. At the time, officials had recorded 261 cases of infection since September 2012, when the disease was first discovered. That announcement followed the dismissal of then Saudi Arabian Minister of Health Abdullah al-Rabiah.
MERS has been diagnosed in other nations, as well; six cases surfaced in the United Arab Emirates in one April weekend alone. Turkey diagnosed its first case of MERS this month, making it the 23rd official nation to diagnose the disease. A Turkish man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia died on October 11 of MERS; those on his flight and individuals who may have had contact with him were “advised… to see their doctors for a health screening, the story noted.” The virus reached the United States in isolated cases, though a comparable outbreak on this hemisphere never materialized.